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Dustbuny76 Jun 14th, 2005 09:42 PM

Trip Report Mal Pais/Manuel Antonio
My husband and I just returned from a wonderful week in Costa Rica. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the posts from peoples trips, so I thought I would add our account of our trip to Costa Rica. First off, this was our first time to Costa Rica and I don't have enough good things to say about this country. I definitely want to return as there is so much that we didn't do since we did not have nearly enough time to explore everything.

Day 1
Arrived in San Jose late. It took us quite a while to get through customs. Once we finally got out, we headed to our hotel. We stayed at the Hampton Inn near the airport. I'm glad we booked this hotel because it was easy and we were so tired that I was glad that we just had to hop on the shuttle and head across the street to the hotel.

Day 2 Drive to Mal Pais
We picked up our rental car from Tri Color. They were great. We got a good deal on the car, and it was a simple painless process. We were on our way to Mal Pais in under 30 minutes. I read a lot about the condition of the roads and driving, and I'll have to admit that I was a bit nervous as to what to expect. The drive to Mal Pais was not bad at all until we were about 20km from Mal Pais. This is when we hit dirt road and saw the most potholes that I've ever seen in my life on one road. We bounced along and arrived in Mal Pais about 5hours after we set out from Alajuela.

We checked into our hotel, Casa Chameleon, and settled in. Casa Chameleon was recommended to us off of the boards, and I was so happy to be staying there. The hotel is gorgeous! Our room was beautiful, and we had a great view of the ocean from every angle of our room. The owners Anthony and Bobbie were amazing. They were extremely accomodating and friendly and helped us out with our questions about the area, where to eat dinner, organized activities for us, and even lent us their snorkeling equipment.

We ate at Soda Piedra Mar on a recommendation. The food was good and the location is unbeatable. We sat next to the ocean and had the waves break about 10ft from our table. The service is slow.

Day 3 Mal Pais
We woke up this morning and Bobbie told us that she had seen some monkeys just up the road from the hotel. We decided to walk up the road to check it out. We saw about 12 monkeys hanging out.

Next we drove over to Montezuma and then to the nature preserve at Cabo Blanco. We headed out the bumpy road to Cobano, and then down another awful road to Montezuma. I had read that Montezuma was hippiesh in feel, but I have to say I really liked it. It was slightly more built up than Mal Pais and had a bigger selection of restaurants etc. We stopped for Gallo Pinto at the Bakery Cafe and it was delicious! From there we headed down the worst road I've ever seen to Cabo Blanco.

We saw some more monkeys at here and even saw some baby monkeys. I was so excited! About 1 hour into our hike, it poured on us, so we turned around and headed back to the car.

We ate dinner at Mary's on a recommendation from Anthony and Bobbie. They have great pizza there.

Day 4 Mal Pais
Anthony and Bobbie set up a tour for us at Curu Nature Preserve and Isla Tortuga. We spent the first part of the day walking around the various trails at Curu. We didn't see to many animals at the preserve, but we enjoyed hiking the trails, and hanging out on the beach at the park. We were told our "tour" would start at 1. At 1pm a guy showed up with a boat and asked what we wanted to do. We wanted to go kayaking, so we hopped on the boat and headed to Isla Tortuga. Once we got there, he dropped us off with some drinks and told us where to get kayaks, and then he took off. We were a little confused by this, but hoped he would come back to pick us up. We kayaked around the island and then returned to the beach. This was by far my favorite beach. We had the island to ourselves and were surrounded by turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. In the end our tour guide came back to pick us up and we headed back to Curu.

We went back to Mal Pais and tried to figure out where to go for dinner. It was our anniversary and decided on the restaurant at FlorBlanca thinking it would be a romantic spot for dinner. It was a beautiful restaurant and it has an intimate atmosphere, but we thought it was a little overrated.

Day 5 to Manuel Antonio
We woke up early and headed back the route we came in on and then over to Manuel Antonio. It rained the entire 5 hours that we were on the road. I was glad that it was raining on our "driving day" but I'm beginning to think that rainy season means rain most of the time, not just some of the time. So far, we have only had one day where it didn't rain on us at all...

We arrived in Manuel Antonio late in the afternoon and checked into our hotel. As we drove into Manuel Antonio, it felt completely different from Mal Pais and way more built up. We had really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Mal Pais and the fact that it was still pretty undeveloped. We checked into the Mango Moon, and were very disappointed. First off, the hotel was described as intimate and romantic, but it was extremely small, not private at all, and smelled like a urinal cake. My husband hated it so much that we went next door and got a room at Si Como No. We were much happy there and got a bigger more private room with an ocean view for less money than our room cost at Mango Moon. The staff was extremely friendly at Si Como No, and we immediately felt welcome there.

Day 6
It looked like it would be a sunny day, so we decided to pack in as many activities as we could into one day. We booked a horseback riding tour in the morning with IGuana Tours. Our guide picked us up from the hotel and drove our group out to the farm where we got on the horses. We rode for about an hour through farms and then into the rain forest. Our guide was great about explaining the various plants and birds that we saw. About halfway through the ride we tied the horses up and hiked up to a waterfall. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip as we got to swim beneath the waterfall. After hiking down to the horses, we rode back to the farm. They prepared an awesome meal for us and then took us back to the hotel. Our guide was great and I would highly recommend this company.

In the afternoon, we booked an ATV tour. Neither my husband or I had ever ridden ATV's, but we loved it! We basically went along the same route that we had been on this morning, but at a much faster pace! The only thing that I didn't like about this tour was that our guide did not seem to into leading the tour or really talking to us. He was very interested in taking us to his friend's skeezy bar at the end of the trip. We stopped to have a beer and were accosted by a very pushy drunk guy. The bartender told him to leave and he proceeded to get aggressive towards a familyl that had been on the tour with us. Our guide didn't seem to mind or think we should leave until a group of us insisted that he take us back. All in all, it was a fun tour, we just didn't like the guide.

After reflecting on our day, we decided that we enjoyed the atmosphere much more in Mal Pais. Maybe it was our experience, but we felt that Manuel Antonio was a little too built up for our taste, and the restaurants and hotels were more expensive than we expected. We also found the people to be a lot friendlier out on the Nicoya Peninsula. Perhaps if we had come to Manuel Antonio first, and then went out to Mal Pais second we would have felt differently. We just enjoyed our time so much in Mal Pais we just kept wanting to go back.

Day 7 Manuel Antonio
It poured ALL day! We were really glad that we had done so much the day before because we weren't able to do much this day. It allowed us to really relax and read a bit.

Day 8 Manuel Antonio
We wanted to see the park before we left so we woke up and were down at the park by 7am when it opened. We hiked around for a few hours and loved it. The beaches are gorgeous! I really wish we could have spent a full day here because there is so much to see. I'm also glad that we arrived early because hordes of people started arriving by 10am.

We headed back to the hotel to check out and drove back to San Jose.

In Retrospect
I loved Costa Rica! I would definitely come back in the dry season and I would like to see more of the Nicoya or maybe Osa Peninsula. I found that I didn't enjoy the more touristy areas as much as the more sparsely populated areas.

Driving was not nearly as bad as I expected. In fact, I didn't mind driving at all. The roads were really bad near Mal Pais and Montezuma, but the rest were ok with the exception of a few bad pot holes near Manuel Antonio and getting stuck between a few slow moving trucks. We didn't get lost once. We had a good map and followed the signs and managed to find our way.

Before we went we weren't sure what to expect for ATMs and weren't sure how widely accepted dollars would be. Every place we went took dollars and gave us change in colones. We also got a very fair exchange rate in all places. We took some dollars with us and used those when we couldn't use our credit card. We also were amazed to find that we could take dollars out of the ATMs in Manuel Antonio!

I also learned to allow more than 2 hours to check in and go through security at the airport. We shouldn't have cut it as tight as we did, but the line to check in was HUGE as was the line that wrapped around the building to go through security. Also, there is a $26/pp departure tax that must be paid BEFORE you check in, so there is a line for that too! I would arrive at the airport 3 hours before my flight.

Lastly, Costa Rica is a beautiful place and the Ticos are extremely warm, friendly, and helpful people. I can't wait to go back!

shillmac Jun 15th, 2005 01:22 AM

Wow! What a nightmare at the airport--the lines sound awful! Gotta admit, we've never seen it that bad. Yuk!

So glad you had a good time overall. MalPais is indeed a special place and for sure has an entirely different atmospere from Manuel Antonio.

There has been more rain this year that usual (especially lately) I hear, so just know that the rainy season usually doesn't pose that much of a problem. Two of the worst rains I've been in (and driven in) were in January and March---that, too, was unusual! Also, further north in the Guanacaste area is always drier and there are some very nice areas there as well.

Haven't been to Curu and have wondered about it. You'd recommend it? Welcome home, so glad you had a great time!

faithie Jun 15th, 2005 08:46 AM

Wow !!! Cant wait to get to Malpais and Montezuma ..... They both sound super ! And yes , poor Manuel Antonio is getting very built up , it holds a special place in my heart as it was where I first went almost 15 yrs. ago . Probably had a similar feel then as what Malpais is now . I wish they would get some of the building under control ... Too bad for the yucky smell at Mango Moon ( gross ) , we thought it very beautiful . Good info. , and thanx for the report ! Faith .

siempretrvls Jun 15th, 2005 03:09 PM

Really enjoyed your report. We recently booked at the Casa Chameleon for July. Sorry to hear about the weather. We're going to be in Mal Pais around the same time we were there last year. Last year, the weather was great and it didn't rain too much. Mainly in the evenings. You never know when a storm front will pass through though. It sounds like you still had a nice time. We've never been to Curu and will be sure to check it out this time. Reading your report just makes me want to jump on a plane tonight!

Melissa5 Jun 15th, 2005 05:49 PM

Thanks for the trip report. Leaving in 2 days for our trip. Have been uncertain whether horseback riding in rainy season is okay in costa Rica...there have been some bad experiences reported on trip reports. But sounds like you had a good experience with horse-back riding booked through Iguana Tours, manuel Antonio. Did you book this through Hotel si como No?


Dustbuny76 Jun 15th, 2005 06:48 PM

I'm happy to hear that the rainy season isn't really as rainy as what we experienced! I think I will give it another try on our next trip. I'm also glad to know that the airport lines usually aren't that bad!

We booked our horseback riding tour through Si Como No. Another couple that was on the ride with us booked the hotel directly with Iguana Tours, and I believe they saved about 10% off the price.

Enjoy Casa Chameleon! We loved it!

snorkelluvn Jun 16th, 2005 07:02 AM

Thanks for the great report. I've been wondering about Curu. It sounds like you went to Isla Tortuga through them, but not pre-booked? Beach to yourselves? Excellent. Tell us more about Curu. Also, wonder more about Montezuma. We are staying there as a base for 4 days, at Ylang Ylang and Amor de Mar.

surfexec Jun 17th, 2005 06:23 PM

I smiled as I read your report as I too had an amazing time at Casa Chameleon. Even though I'd visited Mal Pais many times before, Bobbie and Anthony have great ideas and really helped us see the area in a different way. They are special people and have created a very special place. It's nice to hear that you just had a similar experience. I felt the same way as you about Manuel Antonio. Mal Pais is paradise to me.
Welcome back and Thank You for your report. It made my day.

dfarmer Jun 18th, 2005 05:39 AM

Trully enjoyed reading your report. So nice to see someone else's comparison of two totally different beach areas. We too have learned we much prefer the lesser crowded places.

Casa Chameleon is getting some great reviews, got to add it to my list!

zbizrb Jul 13th, 2005 05:19 PM

We just returned from Costa Rica and the highlight of our stay was our 5 days at Casa Chameleon. It was everything I've read here and more. No where else we stayed lived up to our expectations except Casa Chameleon. It was the only place I really felt clean. It's hard to explain but everywhere else either smelled musty or had fungus growing or bugs. I know it's a rainforest and jungle but I also stayed at more expensive places hoping for a little "luxury in the jungle". Casa Chameleon
I would have paid more for.

siempretrvls Jul 22nd, 2005 02:09 PM

Great to hear even more great reviews on Casa Chameleon. We're going next week and I can't wait!!!

marlu Jul 26th, 2005 06:51 PM

I felt so sad when I read the report on day six, I just came back from Costa Rica and also in Manuel antonio we decided to do some horse back riding; which we usually do wherever we go.
It was nothing like your tour..
the guide did not even talked..was he mute??....The only thing the woman who rented the horses said was not to let them be too close because they will fight for one of the female horses...
I am very nerveous even though that I rode before. It was five of us and my horse seem to be a little rebelious and wouldn"t go the same way than the others but under tree branches etc...
when we got to the beach part about five minutes from the starting point, my horse stayed I whispered in spanish: corra.!.. (run), and He did not hesitated, as he picked up speed I started screaming, pulled hard on the rope and lost control.
I think that most probably I said STOP instead of "PARE and maybe HE WAS NOT A BILINGUAL Horse.
HE JUST THREW ME OFF>>>I saw the fall coming and tried to avoid it, but no way.!
I fell on my left Back Bottom part turn over a couple of times and also bang my head very hard. Thank God it was sand. But still hurt a Lot....and had to pretend nothing had wouldn"t mess up my family's trip. I got up the best way I could and walk a long way back to the rest of the family.
Ha..About the ATV a few days later my family went on those cars??? and my 16 year old did not manipulated the right way and the ATV turned over and fell on top of her. They said that thank God it did not happen in a flat surface but the way it happened she got up quick and managged to push it away from her....
In both cases nothing mayor just a few bruises and neck and body aches...

Another day they took a fishing trip...
bad thing...make sure you research enough before....about $600 USD for half a day. Seem to be a sunny day; my daughter again got sea sick and they told me that the waves were terrible; the little boat almost turn over a few times and they got two fish only.....(kind of expensive eh???

And the day before we came back we went to Arenal and went around the Volcano in a little boat and when we finished on our way to the car a bee
got me on the neck.
Despite every thing I would go back but really doubt about going on the horse back riding.
I wish our ride would be like yours...


Because GOD was watching over us all the time; and he did let us now that he was there.

so every body just be very carefull

marlu Jul 26th, 2005 07:09 PM

Sorry is ' GOOD LUCK' not good lock.

Let's blame on the electricity; it is too hot and I am contribuiting with con edison. So we will not have any problems.
Besides I am Spanish speaking... as you might had noticed... It does not mean a thing just that my english is not so good.

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